Pipe Mania/Pipe Dream review

No, I’m not reviewing another game with two different versions, it’s the same game with two different titles, that’s all. And it’s one of the most ported and influential games of all times. Even if you don’t recognize the title, I assure you that at least you’ll find the gameplay familiar. I’m talking about Pipe Mania aka Pipe Dream.

Pipe Mania is a puzzle game developed by The Assembly Line and published by Empire Software. It was originally released in 1989 for the Amiga, Atari ST and DOS (US version, distributed by Lucasfilm Games under the title Pipe Dream). It was re-released the following year for DOS (EU version), Acorn 32-bit, Amstrad CPC, Apple II and IIgs, Arcade (Japan only), BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Electron, Game Boy, NES, Sam Coupé and ZX Spectrum. In 1991, it was ported to the PC-88, PC-98 and Windows 3.x (as part of the Windows Entertainment Pack). And in 1992, it was ported to the Sharp X68000 and Super Famicon.

But first let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?

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“AAAAAHHHH! A tiny plumber fixing pipes!”

This is the European cover and probably the most famous one. While I do enjoy the cartoon plumber at the bottom with a huge wrench trying to fix a pipe, I, still to this day, don’t understand the huge screaming face that covers almost all of the cover. Is that supposed to be one of the developers? Or just a frustrated player? Am I going to fell frustrated and scream by playing this game? But at least the back cover is a bit better:

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Yes, you better run. I’ve seen what that stuff did to 4 little turtles in New York.

Not to mention the US cover:

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See? He works much better without a giant face screaming behind him.

Just get rid of that hideous face, focus on the plumber, make a nice title and fill the rest with pipes and voilá! An instant classic cover. Because this game was heavily ported, some console versions have their own covers:

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Oh! The pipes form a “P”. But what does it stands for?

This is the Game Boy cover and while I do appreciate minimalistic covers, this one feels lazy compared with the previous ones.

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“Damn it, Harold! How many times do I have to tell you? Righty tighty lefty loosy.”

This is the Super Famicon cover and while it’s a bit more cartoony, it’s also quite good and invokes a sense of fun. Because whoever made the EU cover has to explain to me what fun am I to expect with that face! Sorry, I’m still traumatized since childhood by that…. thing!

But it’s time to boot this sucker:

The title screen is very similar to the cover and the music theme (while being on the PC Speaker) isn’t bad. The gameplay is also quite simple to learn: just put on pipes to let the flooz (fancy name for basically sewage waste) flow through them a certain distance, rack up the points and move on the next level. And you can blow up any pipe that’s wrong and substitute it with another one. This gameplay takes inspiration after Konami’s Loco-Motion, which was released in the arcades back in 1982.

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You can choose between 3 different modes from the menu screen: a single-player mode, a competitive two-player (through hotseat) and an expert single-player. You’ll also have access to a training option, which causes the flooz to flow slower at the cost of not gaining points. You play through 36 levels which get increasingly harder with the flooz running faster and the distance required getting bigger. But luckily you’ll find special pipes that will reduce the speed of the flooz, giving you extra time. The level ends when you run out of places to put pipes, the flooz catches up to you or it reaches the end pipe, which will appear more or less around level 15.

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The flooz must flow!

Every 5 levels, more or less, you’ll have access to a bonus levels, where blocks with pipes start to circulate at the top of the screen and you have to make them fall in order to construct a way for the flooz to flow. The more it flows, the more points you get. At the end of the bonus level, you’ll also get a password to record your progress.

After winning the final level, you return to the first level with all your points intact. That’s right! Another arcade-style game in which the main objective is basically to rack up points. I recommend trying it out first with the training option ON to get a good understating of the mechanics of the game and then turn it OFF to get points. And if you want a real challenge, then try the expert mode or get a friend to play against with.

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I like the color in this one.

Pipe Mania/Dream is one of those games that’s easy to learn but hard to master and it’s quite addictive and fun. The graphics and sound are simple but adequate for a puzzle game. Great for short periods of time and for younger players. Click here to play in your own browser.

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The bonus level.

I haven’t played any of the other ports, but the original Amiga version is considered the best one. There have been almost countless clones afterwards but only 2 official remakes: Pipe Mania 3D/Pipe Dreams 3D in 2000 for the Playstation and Pipe Mania in 2008 for Macintosh, Nintendo DS, Playstation 2, Windows, PSP and iOS. I have the Pipe Mania remake for iOS and it’s OK. It’s basically the same gameplay but with new graphics and new options. It’s geared towards younger players and it’s adequate, I suppose.

But Pipe Mania did have a great influence and it’s not uncommon to find some puzzle based on it in modern games. It kind of felt out of the public memory but the core gameplay still remains in our collective memory. It might not have the accolade of Tetris nowadays but it’s still one of top puzzle games out there.

So, what’s your favorite version of this game? Tell me by commenting below. I know that this week’s review was a bit short, but I promise next time we’ll take a look at a bigger and more complex game. Till then line up those pipes and keep on playing.

Tetris Retrospective

Today I’ve decided to do something different. And if you read the title, I’m sure you’ve, at least, heard about Tetris. If not, welcome to planet Earth and I apologize about all the craziness, but I’m sure you’ll love to hear about this game. So join us at taking a look at a very popular game (that defined the puzzle genre), its history and its most famous versions and ports.

Tetris was created in June 1984 in Soviet Russia, when Alexey Pajitnov, a 28-year-old computer engineer working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, decided to program a puzzle game to test the capabilities of the Electronika 60 computer. Based on the puzzles he played as a child, Pajitnov programmed shapes formed from combinations of 4 blocks, which he named tetrominoes. And combining that word with tennis, he created Tetris:

1st version of Tetris. (Video courtesy of the Sergei Frolov)

As you can see, the gameplay is extremely easy to understand. You only need to combine all the different shapes as they fall until a horizontal row is filled. Then said row disappears, clearing that particular line, up to a total of 4 consecutive rows. After a certain number of cleared rows, the blocks start to fall faster and faster, increasing the difficulty until the entire playing area is full, prompting a game-over.

Pajitnov showed the game to his colleagues at the Academy, who became easily addicted to it and two of them, Dmitry Pavlovsky and Vadim Gerasimov (who was 16 at the time) helped Pajitnov to port the game to DOS and later distribute it through BBS in 1995.

This is the DOS prototype found on the Tetris Gold compilation by Spectrum Holobyte.

After being smuggled to Hungary, it spread across Europe like a virus until it fell to the hands of British software publisher Andromeda, who after failing to secure the rights from Pajitnov due the Cold War politics at the time, decided to illegally sell its rights to Mirrorsoft and Spectrum Holobyte, who then released the first commercial versions of the game for several computers, featuring Russian imagery and music.

This is the 1st commercial DOS Tetris game by Spectrum Holobyte.

But back in Russia, following the initial success of the game, Pajitnov was forced to give the rights of Tetris to Elektronorgtechnica (Elorg), a state-run organization, for 10 years. But Elorg’s director at the time, Alexander Alexinko, found out that Andromeda was selling Tetris rights (which they had no legal claim to) to almost everybody, including Atari, Sega and a certain Dutch publisher called Henk Rogers.

Tetris arcade version by Atari. (Video courtesy of 90’s Arcade Games)

Henk Rogers’ participation was key in finally securing the rights. After watching a version of the game in the Las Vegas’ Computer Electronic Show in 1988, Rogers saw its potential and broke a deal with Nintendo, but unfortunately, Tengen (a subsidiary of Atari) already made a version of Tetris for the NES:

Tetris for the NES by Tengen (Video courtesy of EMN Company)

Rogers then travelled to Russia to properly secure the rights from Elorg and Pajitnov. But he wasn’t alone. Robert Stein from Andromeda and Kevin Maxwell from Mirrorsoft also travelled to Russia for the rights to Tetris.

What happened later was the stuff of legends (so much so, that Hollywood wants to make a movie trilogy based on it), from the fact that Rogers travelled with a tourist visa instead of a business visa (which could have put him in a very tight spot) to even an appeal from Mirrorsoft to Mikhail Gorbachev to mediate all the legal chaos. But Rogers, using his charm and with Pajitnov’s help, finally secured the rights for Nintendo. Although the battle for the rights would continue to rage on through the following years.

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Alexey Pajitnov and Henk Rogers in Moscow, 1989

Nintendo then, with the rights properly secured, mass-produced Tetris for their new portable console, the Game Boy! And they had the masterstroke to bundle Tetris with each copy of the Game Boy, insuring Tetris’ place in videogame history.

Tetris for Game Boy (Video courtesy of 316whatupz)

And after releasing their own version for the NES, Nintendo then forced Atari and Sega to recall their own copies from the market, claiming sole ownership of Tetris for consoles. Which made the Tengen NES and the Sega Mega Drive versions of Tetris so rare, they’re considered extremely valuable among collectors nowadays.

Tetris for the Mega Drive (Video courtesy of Oberon Gaming)

But it was the Game Boy version released in 1989 that became the most famous version of Tetris, due to its portability combined its addictive nature and simplicity, that even people that never thought about playing videogames, could easily play and enjoy it anywhere! Also, an arrangement of a Russian traditional song, Korobeiniki, became so associated with Tetris, that people still call it the “Tetris theme”. In fact, it became so popular that Andrew Lloyd Webber (you know, the guy behind the Cats and The Phantom of the Opera Broadway musicals) even recorded a dance remix with Nigel Wright under the name of Doctor Spin:

Yes, this is your brain on Tetris

But our story doesn’t end here. In 1996, the rights of Tetris reverted back to Pajitnov, who then with Rogers, funded the Tetris Company and trademark not only the name, but every aspect of the game, regulating every license and prosecuting every unlicensed version and clone. Pajitnov and Rogers also created other puzzle games, but never recreated the success they had with Tetris. But they still produce new versions with new features up to this day.

Tetris basically reshaped all the puzzle genre and even the videogame industry itself. Its gameplay is extremely simplistic and yet, extremely addictive. Its accessibility however is what makes Tetris so enjoyable. Seeing someone with disabilities that can’t play typical videogames, enjoying a simple game like Tetris, is a sight to behold. And it opened the Western world a bit more towards Russian culture, so I think I’m not exaggerating when I say Tetris is a true icon of Humanity.

Important Links:

So, what did you think of my retrospective of Tetris? I hope I made it proper justice. If there’s anything you’d like to add, please leave it in the comments below. Next time, is back to basics. Till then, keep on stacking those blocks.

The 7th Guest review

One of the biggest technological improvements made to computers in the 90s was the introduction of CD-ROMs. Their superior storage capacity enabled the introduction of CD quality music, audio and video in videogames. It also began the popularity of FMV (Full Motion Video) games, which featured for the 1st time, actual videos with actual actors in it. And although 3D graphics were introduced a few years later, voice-over acting is still a predominant part of videogames nowadays.

That’s why today’s review is dedicated to one the first FMV and CD-ROM games and perhaps the one that popularized the use of CD-ROMs as a viable media for videogames. I’m talking of course about The 7th Guest!

The 7th Guest was produced by Trilobyte and distributed by Virgin. It was released originally in 1993 for DOS and CD-i, re-released a year later for the Macintosh, in 1995 for PC-Windows and in 2010 for the iOS and recently remastered for Android.

But let’s start by taking a look at the cover:

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Just your typical calm and serene haunted house.

This cover simply screams classic horror! It looks like the poster of any horror book or movie featuring a haunted house. And the title’s lettering reinforces it.

And the Windows 95 cover isn’t too shabby either:

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But let’s boot this sucker and prepare to shake in our boots:

The intro as seen, shown as a FMV, introduces the mansion’s owner Henry Stauf (an obvious anagram) and his story from homeless man to successful toymaker through mysterious means. One night, he invites 6 distinguished guests for a night of games and puzzles, but they were never seen again.

All the guests are introduced afterwards as ghosts, each with their own musical themes, which are played every time they’re on screen or referenced.

You never actually interact with any of the ghosts; they’re simply replaying the events of that night, as in stuck in a ghostly loop.

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Why must all scary mansions have a huge staircase?

You play as Ego, as named in the manual, who suffers from amnesia and is stuck in the mansion and has no other choice but to play and solve Stauf’s puzzles.

Every room in the mansion has a puzzle waiting to be solved, but at the beginning only the library is accessible. You have to solve puzzles to open other rooms with their own puzzles to solve. Every time you enter a new room, you can watch a “ghost” scene and you’re also rewarded with another such scene almost every time you solve a puzzle.

The objective of the game is to solve all the puzzles, watch all the scenes and find out what happened to all the guests, especially the eponymous 7th “guest”.

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“I say! This rude message is making me quite transparent.”

The “ghost” scenes are played in a hilariously over the top way and although the video quality isn’t the best, you won’t have any difficulty to make out what’s happening.

The characters are all quite colorful, if a bit stereotypical. But then again the focus of the story is Stauf himself, so naturally he’s the character that gets more fleshed out.

The logic puzzles in their majority aren’t too hard, although you’ll curse some of them, like the can and the microscope puzzles. The microscope puzzle became so infamous that it was cut out from the iOS version and released as a standalone game (The 7th Guest: Infection) for iPad.

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Now, this cake I wish it was a lie!

Both Stauf and Ego will give hints to solve the puzzles and if you still need help, you can go back to the library and use the book in which you saw the intro. The 1st time you use the book; it’ll give a hint and transport you back to the puzzle. The 2nd time, it’ll explain the puzzle and the 3rd time; it’ll solve the puzzle for you. But you might miss the scene that usually plays afterwards. You can use the book all you want except for the final puzzle.

And because you can tackle the puzzles that are available in any order, the “ghost” scenes might be played out of order, but it shouldn’t be too hard to understand the storyline.

The graphics are all in SVGA, presented in pre-rendered stills. This means that all movement isn’t free as in a 3D game, but also pre-rendered in a first-person perspective. But it looks amazing for the time and the transitions are all well-animated. The shadows and lights give an eerie atmosphere suitable to a horror-themed game.

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Good thing you can access this map in the options screen.

And speaking of atmosphere, the music is top-notch. All composed by George “The Fat Man” Sanger (a famous videogame music composer), the themes are fantastic and contribute even further to the game’s atmosphere. And if you have the game in physical format, just pop the 2nd cd in your cd-player and hear the amazing soundtrack.

The menu screen is an Ouija board, in which you save or load games, return to the game, restart it, quit to DOS, or look at the map. The map is another helpful tool, because not only it shows the layout of the mansion, but also shows which rooms are open and which puzzles have been solved (light brown for unsolved and red for solved).

All the action is controlled by the mouse and the cursor in-game changes accordingly to the function: skeletal hand for navigation, skull with brain for puzzles, drama mask for “ghost” scenes, pyramid to access the menu and rattling teeth for weird, supposedly scary scenes or to open and use the several secret passages in the mansion.

The secret passages are convenient to travel around the mansion faster and sometimes the way you use them should give a hint about Ego’s nature.

But for me the game has one small flaw and I have to go to spoiler territory to explain it.

I found the ending small and a bit confusing. I had to replay a couple of times to understand it a bit. Supposedly there was going to be a bad ending if you used the library book too many times or used it on the last puzzle, in which you return to the very beginning of the game, evoking the loop in which all the ghosts of the guests are trapped. But it was cut from the final product.

And I still to this day ask about the connection between Ego and the 7th guest.

Spoilers over.

But apart from this small flaw, which is due more to nitpicking from my part, I still find the game quite enjoyable and I highly recommend it.

Yes, it’s a collection of several logic puzzles, but they’re presented in such an original way, with a great atmosphere, featuring a great soundtrack, all-encompassing in a classic horror style, that it’s impossible not to enjoy it.

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I’ve heard about touching art but this is ridiculous!

You can buy it here in GOG.com, here in Steam and the remastered version for iOS here and Android here.

And if you’re playing it on ScummVM, then try this remixed high-quality soundtrack!

The 7th Guest sold more than two million copies, which began the FMV craze and cemented its place in computer game history. The sequel, The 11th Hour, didn’t have the same success and Trilobyte came back in 2013 and made a Kickstart campaign for a third game in the series, which unfortunately wasn’t successful. But Attic Door Productions, after licensing the series from Trilobyte, ran a successful Kickstart campaign for The 13th Doll, an unofficial sequel.

Although there aren’t any remakes (remastered for the iOS and Android only), I wouldn’t mind seeing a full 3D remake, but still with the same hammy acting, with better graphics and perhaps an expanded story and new puzzles to be solved.

So that was my review of The 7th Guest. Did you like it? Write your comments below and tell me about it.

I’m preparing a very special surprise for February, so I’ll take a couple of weeks to prepare it. Tune back just before February for me to introduce it and until then keep on playing.

Don’t forget! Just like old man Stauf says: “COME BAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK”!